A Good Father

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Recently, my husband and I started the process of buying our first home. It freaked me out. Big time. So much money, so much responsibility, so many things to break and cost even more money… So, I asked God not to just shut the door if it was the wrong move, but to SLAM it in our faces. Instead, he opened the door even wider.

And his goodness stunned me. Again.

You see, like a lot of people, I never expected God to give me good things. Or, if he did, I expected him to snatch them away again the next second. Because that’s how my life has always gone. When I was a teenager I said that life is like drowning in the ocean. You get some breaths between the waves, but only enough to make sure you keep surviving—a cruel punishment.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized God wasn’t the one sending the waves. It was my dad. God was there, looking at me with compassion and love the whole time. He was waiting for the perfect moment to deliver me and show me all the goodness my dad had been keeping from me. He knew I needed to be ready to face the truth. He knew I needed to have the support of a loving husband. He knew he needed to work in my mom, sister, and brother’s hearts as well.

The whole time I was drowning, he was preparing me for freedom. And now, he is showing me what the Bible means when it calls him Father.

People say that a lot. When you have a toxic dad, they tell you to cling to God as your Father. The problem is, if all you have is a bad example, that’s pretty much impossible. You see God through the lens of the abuser’s manipulation. You try to be perfect so God won’t be disappointed. As many times as you hear he loves you, you still can’t believe it. Not really.

But now, for the first time, I’m starting to be able to see God as a good Father. Naming what happened to me gave me the ability to reject my dad’s lens. God isn’t on the side of the abuser. He doesn’t look like spiritual abuse says he does.

He actually has good in store for me, even though I never believed it.

“You have to forgive me!” And Other Lies

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day (if someone yelling over you for an hour can be called a conversation), and he said that I need to forgive him. Otherwise, God won’t forgive me.

You see, to my dad, I haven’t forgiven him because I don’t trust him. To him, forgiveness means reconciliation and unconditional relationship. It means giving him license to hurt me over and over and over. And it doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll talk about that in another post). I’m supposed to forget and act like everything is okay when I am being psychologically pounded into the earth.

Literally, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I could barely move, my limbs were so heavy.

But no, I’m supposed to “forgive and forget.” Which, by the way, isn’t even in the Bible.

 

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And unfortunately, that’s the view that the church has taught.

They say that if he apologizes, you need to trust those words. You need to believe that he is a changed man even if everything in you screams it’s a lie. It doesn’t matter that abusers are master manipulators. It doesn’t matter that there has been no true repentance (I’ll write about that in another post).

They say you need to pray more, be more loving and kind. Then he’ll be convicted to change his abusive ways. I’ve got news for you: that makes abuse worse. Being more loving does not convict him. It tells him he is right—you are the one who needs to change because everything is your fault.

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But here’s the thing, I have forgiven my dad. But my forgiveness looks like acknowledging that his abuse is not okay and trusting God for justice in the situation. I’m not trying to punish him. I don’t wish any harm or pain upon him.

I forgive, but I don’t trust him. I forgive, but I will not condone his sin by allowing him to be cruel to me. I forgive, but there can be no reconciliation. Not while he’s abusive.

And that is okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Emotional Abuse Feels Like

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Am I crazy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever express myself to him in a way he will understand? Maybe he’s right—I don’t know how to communicate…

These are the thoughts that swirl through your mind. Reality is a shifting surface, and every time you think you’ve grasped a corner of it, it is ripped away. He acts like you are crazy, and sometimes you almost wonder if he’s right. Other times, you feel the burn of injustice, and you get angry, you stand up for yourself. But by the end somehow you are apologizing to him again.

He’s a good guy, a godly man, you remind yourself. So why do I feel so terrible?

You don’t know what’s wrong, but you know that something is, so you wonder if he’s right—it’s you, your mother, your sister. He’s the victim of unreasonable, overly-sensitive, paranoid, controlling females.

You are always on-guard, always braced, waiting for the next mood swing. He is unpredictable, and so you try harder to read him, to anticipate his wants, to not set him off. If you could just be more sympathetic, he wouldn’t feel like you were ungrateful for how hard he works. If you could just be less “Type-A,” he wouldn’t feel like you are trying to control him. If you could just be less needy, he wouldn’t seem to despise you. If you could just be more enthralled with what he has to say, one day his attention tank will be filled up and he’ll have a little left over to give to you.

It doesn’t work.

You are trapped, but as hard as you try, you can’t see the ropes that bind you.

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

Maybe I’ve had it all wrong my whole life (no big surprise there)

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I’ve been reading Love, Medicine, and Miracles by Bernie Siegel, which is about how our perceptions, beliefs, and hope effects our healing and health. I started thinking about how God calls us to have faith—and I found myself questioning beliefs I hadn’t even put into words before…

Maybe I’ve had it all wrong my whole life. Maybe faith isn’t like a currency. God doesn’t ask us to have faith because he wants to make sure we’re doing our part. It’s not like we better have enough faith or he won’t do anything for us. He’s not sitting up there irritated because we can’t get it together enough to trust him.

In my church background, faith meant standing firm, holding on to what you want with everything you’ve got. You want to get physically, emotionally, or mentally healed? Then don’t settle for anything less. Healing is your birthright. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, so if that mountain staring you in the face doesn’t move, you must not have a seed’s worth.

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But maybe faith is being okay with not getting healed. Maybe it’s leaning in to God and crying because you have to let another dream, another friendship, another person go. But you have faith that he has still made your life worth living.

Maybe it’s more like how he told us to rest. He didn’t do that to give himself another reason to punish us when we fail to take our Sabbath. He did it because he knows we need rest. He knows we will work ourselves to death in fear and greed and workaholic-ism. He knows he needs to tell us to slow down, to rest like he did for at least one day each week.

Maybe he tells us to have faith because he wants to partner with us in our healing. Maybe it’s a gentle voice that puts his mighty hand on our back and says, “It’s okay, I’ve got this. We will get through this together.” Maybe he knows that we need the peace faith brings in order to have enough hope to get healing.

Maybe faith has a lot more to do with hope than I ever realized. Maybe faith isn’t something you strive for. It’s just hope mixed with trust.

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I’m beginning to realize why faith, hope, and love are so inseparable in the Bible. They are all, in essence, facets of the same thing. I guess that makes sense, since they are all part of God’s nature, and he is one.

So with that, may you have hope in your brokenness today.

I Didn’t Realize I Had a Strange Childhood

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My Mother

cried as she drove up the driveway past the rusting hulls

of trucks, the blue sawmill devoured

by raspberry bushes, the log piles shedding their bark. She told me

marriage is the worst kind of loneliness. She watched

the ever-growing string of tractors in the muddy field,

felt the strain of engines pulling against hungry earth

as my brother and I waded up to our chins in the front pond,

a cathedral of cattails above, stagnant water singing with frogs and here

and there a dead, stringy form beneath.

Breathe

I am driving when anxiety stirs in my stomach. It is small at first, and I think that it is just one of those random spurts that come and choke my heart for a second and then pass. But it grows. As the wipers swish away the rain, I find myself unable to breathe. Suddenly, I am terrified that my husband is going to die. He’s going die and I will be shredded into tiny bloody pieces by the force of his loss. I will never be able to tell him about my day again. I will never recover. Panic claws at my throat, and my chest aches like someone is sitting on it. My head feels like it’s floating, unbound from my body. There’s not enough oxygen.

A panic attack. I haven’t had one in a while, not since my doctor doubled my dose of antidepressant. God, don’t take him from me. Please don’t take him from me. I force myself to breathe—in four, hold five, out seven.

He will cover Josh with his feathers, and under his wings Josh will find refuge. We will not fear the terror by night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness.

There was a time I didn’t know what the terms “general anxiety disorder” and “panic attack” meant. I just called the times when life got too much to handle “freaking out.” Several times. . . okay, many times I left class completely and utterly overwhelmed. I would practically run to a secluded spot outside and collapse to my knees in the dirt, hyperventilating, heart pounding, vision swimming because of a single homework assignment. I didn’t understand what was going on. . .  and neither did the people around me.

Once, a few months after I received my anxiety diagnosis, my RD sat me down with a cup of tea to challenge me to get ahold of my life. “You’re causing your friends to worry about you,” she said. “What can you do to manage your stress level?”

“I’m doing everything I can to manage my anxiety, but sometimes it just gets so intense it needs to come out. So I go somewhere by myself and freak out for a little.”

“But you shouldn’t ever need to freak out.” Those were her words.

Apparently, I should just decide to not have a panic attack. I should never be out of control. I should rewire my brain chemistry and hormones with a snap of my fingers.

If only it was that easy.

Four years later, I force my fingers to relax their grip on the steering wheel. Electricity is zapping through my ribcage, my head is faint, and my chest aches worse than ever, but I keep breathing. I am okay. The fear is not the truth. I am able to stay in the part of my brain that knows this. I have kept this attack from blowing out of control. This is not because I told myself I “shouldn’t need to freak out.” It’s because I educated myself about anxiety disorders and panic attacks. It’s because I told myself it was okay—I am not a bad person for not being able to stay under control. The anxiety, the panic attacks. . . they are not me.

But they are part of what has made me me. Whether I wanted them to or not.

So, as the rain coats the pavement, I don’t get angry at myself or discouraged that it happened again, I just breathe.

 

 

 

 

Dreaming Small

Dream Small

People say to dream big. But what if that’s too much to ask?

Don’t ask me to have grandiose plans for the future when I am just beginning to accept today. For nine years, the future has been an ominous cloud, a place for nightmares to come true. Dreaming big about the future isn’t an option for a lot of us.

So, instead I practice dreaming small. I stare out the window at the leaves reaching up to drink the rain. I make a cup of tea as I work. I cook dinner without dreading the endless cycle of sleep, wake up, work, sleep, die.

Small things, I’m beginning to believe, are attainable.

We put too much emphasis on the future, on having everything figured out. “It’s okay to dream small,” I want to shout. Just live in today. Just dream about tomorrow. This is what I would tell them, the people like me:

Dream of getting a good novel from the library. Dream of creating something beautiful out of paint or clay or beads. Dream of walking in nature, feeling God’s breath whisper through the tress. Dream of doing something—just one small thing—that you want to do just because you want to do it. Dream of saying no to the next person who steps across your boundaries. Dream of deciding to eat that chocolate muffin without any guilt. Dream of taking the one step that’s in front of you instead of worrying about the next 270.

Don’t be afraid to start small.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Life is made of little things

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Traffic thins as I head north from the Cities. The walls on either side of the highway dip down into the earth and the fields widen. When I exit and turn left onto a country road, I roll down the window and let the air whoosh in. It smells like the breath of a thousand leaves, of dirt and watery sky.

No exhaust and tar bogging down the air.

A painted turtle, its pointed nose lifted to the sky, waddles across the pavement. I swerve slightly to avoid a crunch beneath my tires. The truck behind me does the same. There are no turtle crossings in the city. Even if there were, it wouldn’t make it three inches before being squashed.

Life is made of such little things: a turtle crossing the road, the smell of rain, the sound aspen leaves make as they tremble like green coins in the wind, the curling smoke from a burned-out candle, the dimple in his left cheek when he smiles, the warmth of socks straight from the dryer. But it’s so easy to miss. It’s so easy to skim over life as I rinse dishes and wipe counters and drive an hour to work. But as cornfields stretch into apple orchards and untamed forests, I vow.

I will pay attention.

I will look at the world and be filled with wonder at all the tiny, beautiful things.

I want my heart to sing with gratitude.

Otherwise, I will stay here, powerless, trapped, while life whirls on, carrying me in its pounding current. I must remember that it is made of little things. I must pay attention. I must remember this even when the night hits and clouds suffocate the sky and I wonder if I’ll ever find my way to morning.